A healthy gut microbiome is crucial to good overall health, including not only your digestive health, but your immune system, skin health and emotional wellbeing.
What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is the term many health professionals use to refer to the microorganisms living in your large intestine. These microorganisms include yeast and viruses, but predominantly the gut microbiome is made up of bacteria.
The gut microbiome isn't just a few hundred bacteria. Evidence suggests there could be up to 100 trillion microbes in the gut microbiome, with the number of bacteria still up for debate. However, since we know the gut microbiome is largely bacteria, it's safe to say it's in the trillions.
What does the gut microbiome do?
Although we can't see our gut microbiome, that doesn't mean they're not busy working away looking after our health. It's important to remember not all bacteria is bad. In fact, a healthy gut microbiome is thriving with good, friendly bacteria.
Your friendly gut bacteria ferment the fibre from your diet to produce substances called short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids offer our bodies lots of health benefits. From appetite regulation, glucose (sugar) production and blood lipid (fat) control, the production of these substances is essential.
Your gut could also be described as the hub for your immune system, with approximately 70% of your immune related cells being found here.
Can the gut microbiome cause digestive symptoms?
The gut microbiome is a very delicate and fragile ecosystem, meaning the smallest change affecting the body or gut can cause dysbiosis. Dysbiosis simply describes the gut microbiome being off balance. The gut microbiome enters this state of dysbiosis due to either a reduction in friendly bacteria and/or an increase in bad bacteria.
When the gut microbiome is in a state of dysbiosis, you're more likely to develop digestive symptoms, such as bloating, constipation or diarrhoea.
What are the factors that can cause dysbiosis?
There are many factors that can cause dysbiosis in the gut microbiome.
The food you eat can influence the composition of your gut microbiome. Within your gut, there are many different types of gut bacteria, with each type having a different preference for the fibre they ferment. A diet that's rich and diverse in plant-foods has been suggested to be optimal for nourishing your gut microbiome. This is because different foods offer different types of fibre. Whilst a diet high in added sugar is thought to feed bad bacteria.
Stress can have a body-wide impact, and the gut doesn't escape this. The gut and brain are connected through the gut-brain axis, which enables gut bacteria and the brain to communicate constantly. It's thought that high levels of stress, particularly for prolonged periods of time, can adversely impact the gut microbiome. Stress management is often a vital element for managing digestive issues.
Whilst antibiotics have been a turning point in the treatment of many bacterial infections, they don't discriminate between friendly and bad bacteria. As a result, there's a risk that antibiotic use may alter the composition of friendly bacteria found in the gut, which may lead to digestive symptoms. Restoring the gut microbiome composition is crucial to alleviating symptoms.
What can you do to look after your gut microbiome?
Ensuring you eat a good quality diet, rich in plenty of fibre rich plant-foods, with minimal added sugar will help to feed your friendly gut bacteria and keep bad bacteria at bay. Stress management is also an essential part of supporting not only your gut microbiome, but your overall health too.
Whilst antibiotics can disrupt the gut microbiome, if these medications are needed to overcome a bacterial infection, it's important you take them and finish the entire course of antibiotics. You can restore your gut microbiome by focusing on your diet, stress levels, and if needed by supplementing with an evidence-based high quality probiotic supplement. These are just some of the tools that I use in my clinic with clients working on improving and nurturing their digestive health. You can book your free 15 minute discovery session, to see how I can support your gut health, here.
The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes, which are predominantly bacteria. These bacteria are essential to good overall health, including digestion and an optimal immune system. However, since the gut microbiome is a sensitive ecosystem, it's susceptible to changes. Diet quality, stress levels and antibiotics can all interrupt the harmony of the gut microbiome.
Guinane, C. and Cotter, P. (2013) Role of the gut microbiota in health and chronic gastrointestinal disease: understanding a hidden metabolic organ, Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology, 6(4). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667473/
Healthline (2021) How Short-Chain Fatty Acids Affect Health and Weight. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/short-chain-fatty-acids-101
R. Lambert (2021) The Science of Nutrition: Debunk the diet myths and learn how to eat well for health and happiness (London UK, Darling Kindersley Limited)